His travels may take him to Ethiopia, Malawi, Lesotho or to the far corners of Ireland. His meetings may be with heads of state, parliamentarians, budgetary bean counters or with farmers and school children. His missions may range from promoting new conservation tilling techniques to considering the role of breast pumps in improving infant nutrition in Africa.
“All in a day’s work of the hunger envoy,” says Kevin Farrell, special envoy for hunger in the Irish government.
Beyond Ireland, few countries, if any, have a hunger envoy. Then again, few countries can match Ireland’s relationship to hunger. Stories of the Great Famine of the 19th century are passed down through most every family. Humble and haunting monuments to starvation, death or emigration abound across the countryside. When hunger calamities arise anywhere else in the world, like most recently in Haiti following the earthquake, calls for donations echo on every street corner. The rattling of coins in the collection cans provides the rhythm for Saturday shoppers, who reach into their pockets with the generous refrain, “Ah, sure, we know what it was like to be poor and hungry.”
The hunger envoy’s job is to make sure no one forgets. And to remind everyone that there is plenty of work yet to be done to end the chronic hunger that burdens one billion people in the world today. Every country should have a hunger envoy.
From Left to Right: Gayle Smith, Senior Director for Relief, Stabilization and Development at the National Security Council and Senior Advisor to the President of the United States; Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; Dr. Agnes Kalibata, Rwanda's Minister of Agriculture; and H.E. Commissioner Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the African Union Commissioner for the Department Rural Economy and Agriculture (DREA). Photo taken at the opening session of the Rwanda Post-Compact CAADP Meeting held in Kigali, Rwanda (December 7-8, 2009).
They were listening in the hills of Rwanda a year ago when a new American president, this one with African lineage, took the oath of office. Minutes into his inaugural address, Barack Obama stirred their hopes:
“To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow, to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.”
They were listening several months later, when the governments of the leading industrial countries – the G8 – pledged more than $20 billion in agriculture development aid. And they were listening in September when the U.S. convened a special United Nations session to build support for a coordinated strategy that would reverse the decades of neglect of agriculture development in the poorest countries, particularly in Africa.
They heard all the words and wondered if there would ever be any action behind them.
Given the carnage of the first decade of the 21st Century, the humanitarian front would seem an unlikely source for a beacon of light. But here it is, shining through the gloom:
Where grassroots clamor is raised, wonders follow.
Amid the financial wreckage of the past decade stands the monument of debt relief for the poorest countries of the world. Amid the rampant human suffering from wars and swindles are great advancements in the treatment of AIDS. Amid so many divisions, the world at least gathered together to confront the challenge of climate change, even if the results fell short of the ambition.
On the hunger front, the last decade was one of great outrage. We shamefully brought hunger with us into the 21st Century after the Green Revolution was one of the great scientific achievements of the 20th Century. And not only have we brought hunger into the new century and new millennium, we brought it with us in ever-increasing numbers. The food crisis of 2008 exposed the decades-long negligence of agriculture development investment and the hypocrisy of policies like structural adjustment and farm subsidies that punished small farmers of the developing world, particularly in Africa. By the end of the decade, the roll-call of the world’s chronically hungry had lengthened dramatically, soaring past one billion people. That, the folks who do the counting tell us, is the highest absolute number in history.
But the past decade also provided inspiration. The progress on debt relief and AIDS, and the attention showered on climate change, should have us shouting:
Chicago - The Chicago Council on Global Affairs today announced that Roger Thurow, former Wall Street Journal correspondent and coauthor of the influential book on the global food crisis, Enough, has joined the Council as a senior fellow for Global Agriculture & Food Policy.
In his role as senior fellow, Mr. Thurow will be the editor and principal contributor to the Council’s Global Food for Thought blog, part of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative. The blog is a forum for expert commentary, debate, and breaking developments on international agriculture, food, and related issues. Mr. Thurow will also work on a range of other activities for the Global Agricultural Development Initiative.
"During my travels as a reporter, I saw firsthand the vital role agriculture plays in the daily lives of people throughout the developing world," said Mr. Thurow. “At The Chicago Council, I look forward to contributing to the international discourse on how best to address the crucial issue of the day – global hunger.”
On February 22, 2010, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs will convene a symposium in Washington, D.C. to review progress on the Administration’s global food security strategy and provide critical thinking on how best to overcome potential obstacles to success. The day-long event will:
Discuss progress on U.S. and international food security commitments,
Examine strategies for how to sustain support for these activities, and
Provide constructive thinking on implementation challenges.
This symposium early in 2010 will provide a unique opportunity to raise attention to these issues: it will be one year since the Obama Administration took office, Congress will begin a new session, and the U.S. and the international community will be evaluating foreign policy priorities for the year ahead.
Dr. Rajiv Shah has been sworn in as administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton administered the oath of office to Dr. Shah today in Washington.
U.S. President Barack Obama nominated Dr. Shah for the position, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination last month.
Dr. Shah formerly worked as the director of agricultural development at the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and later served as under secretary for research, education and economics and chief scientist at the U.S. department of agriculture
Dr. Shah will oversee a staff of about 8,000 employees, of whom more than 75 percent of are working overseas in USAID field offices, and will be responsible for strengthening USAID, an agency that administers about $20 billion in annual assistance for development projects around the world. The Obama administration has indicated its desire to expand the agency and to double its budget in coming years.
Click here for Secretary Clinton's remarks from the swearing-in ceremony.
Additionally, Administrator Shah, Secretary Vilsack, and Ambassador Holbrooke briefed the press on-the-record, on-camera about U.S. government agriculture sector programs in Afghanistan and their respective, upcoming travel to the region. A transcript can be found here.
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The Chicago Council and the Global Agricultural Development Initiative do not endorse the opinions expressed in this blog, twitter, and facebook but merely provide a forum for this information, commentary, and debate.
Sung serves as the editor of The Chicago Council's Global Food for Thought Blog.
The Chicago Council takes no institutional position on policy issues and has no affiliation with the U.S. government. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion on the blog are the sole responsibility of the individual commentator, author, or media source. They may not reflect the views of the Initiative cochairs or funders.